But before we set off on this musical journey together, a word of caution. This blog prides itself in being a paragon of common sense and respect. An open mind is a must-have accesory when you stroll through the doors of my small, but cozy, inviting and intimate cyber-house. Occasionally you won't like what's being played, shown or written, but the reader/blogger can rest assured that utmost care has always been taken before deciding to upload a particular post.
Why these cautionary words, maybe our non-Cuban friends are asking themselves? The answer is simple. Throughout his forty years of writing and performing music, Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez has become a byword for excellence in composition (an Ivor Novello would not go amiss) and political cowardice. His name provokes both admiration and anger. His masterpieces are highly celebrated around the Spanish-speaking world and derided in the same lofty way. Why this opprobium heaped upon this deft guitarist and marvellous lyricist? Because Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez at some point made the conscious decision to jettison the ideals that he sung to in his early years.
Which poses the following question: so what? Anyone born and bred in Cuba will be aware of the double-think process one is subjected to from day one. Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez has not been the only person to get into the bed with the same bureaucrats he used to lay into in his songs in his halcyon days, nor will he be the last one. Moreover, he is part of Cuba's cultural history, whether we like it or not and he will remain in that pole position, where we placed him decades ago, for years to come.
That cautionary note aside, let's allow K.O.S. to explain why he has invited such controversial musician to Our Weekly Session.
1969 was a roller-coaster for music in general: Led Zeppelin debuted their trail-blazing 'Led Zeppelin I' album, which paved the way for heavy metal whilst The Beatles gave an impromptu performance on the rooftop of Apple Records, which proved to be their last ever appearance in public. Other cultural events included: The Woodstock and Altamont Free Concert Festivals, the former is still considered a powerful symbol of the hippy era, the latter was viewed by many as the end of the make-love-not-war sixties. In the political arena the Vietnam war was still raging and causing uproar amongst the younger generation, spanning countless demonstrations in the process, whilst NASA and the Soviet Union were still in their 'swords-at-dawn' phase over control of outer space.
Away from these convulsions, but still with a heavy dose of political, ideological and social content in his songs, a Cuban singer was making inroads in the then nascent Nueva Trova (New Song Movement). This was a musical phenomenon that sprung mainly from Cuba's ever-inquisitive young people, who, although still sided with Castro's revolution, had already begun to question some of the narrow-minded decisions made on their behalf but without their consultation.
Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez was one of the movement's greatest spokespeople. His songs were full of the type of poetry that Night has always sought in vain to produce and which It can only achieve just as It's about to be swallowed up by the Sun, Its verses getting lost in the mist of dawn. Hence, it's always been the poet's job to collect those stanzas that have fallen off Night's bosom and stamp them on the empty page. Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez was that poet and singer. Because his lyrics were hard to understand the government chose to ignore him first and to censure him after. Thus, under these circumstances the Cuban singer-songwriter embarked on a journey bound for west Africa on board the Playa Girón fishing boat in September 1969. Nobody expected Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez back. And yet, he returned and the resulting album 'Al Final de Este Viaje...' ('At the End of This Journey...') laid the grounds for the further development of the Nueva Trova. From the Killer Opening Song, 'Canción del Elegido (The Chosen One's Song)' to the album title track, Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez touched upon issues like: social prejudices against women ('La Familia, La Propiedad Privada y el Amor/Family, Private Property and Love'), artistic integrity vs artistic compromise ('Debo Partirme en Dos/I Must Split Myself in Half') and his generation's eternal fight against the Cuban government's bureaucratic machinery ('Resumen de Noticias/News Round-up').
In his 1996 book 'Canciones del Mar/Seasongs' Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez wrote that 'Canción del Elegido (The Chosen One's Song') was an enigma to be deciphered. The truth is that many people thought it a reference to Che Guevara, whereas others firmly believed it was a paean to Jesus Christ. But that's Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez for you, an enigma. What cannot be denied is that this Killer Opening Song ushered in not only a whole catalogue of masterpieces ('Óleo de una Mujer con Sombrero/Woman with Hat', his homage to Chagall and '¿Qué Se Puede Hacer con el Amor?/What Shall We Do About Love'?, his questioning of love and its contradictions) but also a whole new era of song-writing.
The song as such is not without its imperfections. The last stanza seems to be an open invitation to wage war in order to achieve peace, a notion that the invasion to Iraq has already put paid to (Supo la historia de un golpe/sintió en su cabeza cristales molidos/y comprendió que la guerra/era la paz del futuro/lo más terrible se aprende enseguida/y lo hermoso nos cuesta la vida/La última vez lo vi irse/entre humo y metralla, contento y desnudo/iba matando canallas/con su cañón de futuro/He learnt about the history very quickly/and he felt as if his head was full of shards/it occurred to him that war was future's peace...), however, K.O.S. has to analyse the Cuban musician within the social and political context he was living in at the time and that was (and still is) the type of rhetoric one often hears in Cuba (no matter how anti-war the government portrays itself to be).
Very often Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez has been compared to Bob Dylan, an artist K.O.S. will be inviting to Our Weekly Session in a few weeks. Insofar as we see both musicians as trailblazers, anti-establishment (at the beginning of their careers) and artistically prolific, K.O.S has no problem at all with this analogy. Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez also suffered a dip in his popularity when he sought to branch out into other genres. This not always reaped the creative rewards his many fans expected and the backlash arrived in no time.
There should be no doubt, however, that Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez' music belongs in the Cuban cultural pantheon, despite his political leaning and his subsequent servitude over the years to the same government that attempted to close him down at first. And it is for his artistic talent that Killer Opening Songs features this important Cuban singer-songwriter this week. Enjoy.
(Note: This clip is from a concert Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez gave in Madrid in 1979).